"The Battle for the Schools" by Dantès Bellegarde (1877-1966)

An excerpt from Bellegarde’s La résistance haïtienne (1937). As Dartiguenave’s Minister of Education, Bellegarde insisted that Haiti maintian classical education in the nation’s schools. He was mad that the Americans only wanted vocational education. He was even more upset when the American financial advisor, John McIlhenny, vetoed his proposals.

Haiti does not need any foreign experts to reorganize our public education system. The system we adopted conforms to our language, our traditions, and our aspirations. It is based on the French school system. This system has been criticized in many ways. But the Americans are mistaken to despise it. We can address [the deficiencies] of education in Haiti in the following ways. First [we must] prepare teachers and pay them fairly for their work. Second [we must] build schools and provide them with the furniture and tools needed to teach at [every level]. Third [we should] develop agricultural and industrial education to respond to the country’s economic needs and social conditions.

Forth [we must] reorganize the system by which schools are inspected and supervised [to ensure proper] study, hygiene, and physique.

When these actions were reported by our Minister of Finance to the [American] financial advisor [John] McIlhenny, they provoked his wrath. In a letter dated 23 June 1920, Mr. McIlhenny said that "he was absolutely opposed to such actions" which were, in polite words, "inappropriate."

[McIlhenny’s] refusal to provide Haiti’s schools with any assistance was a systematic policy to starve them and take over the Ministry of Education…. It was necessary to demonstrate that Haitians were unable to advance on their own to a superior state of civilization.

The big mistake by the Americans was to believe in their own cruel plan to starve [our] public schools and ruin our education system, which was seen as too academic, and replace them with a system that was purely vocation but would produce an inferior nation of wood cutters and water porters.